Tuesday, June 10, 2008

'Tandoori' Chicken Tikka: Luscious Kebabs for Summer Grilling

I was reminded of these wonderful North Indian spiced chicken kebabs recently when my brother-in-law in Pennsylvania wanted a recipe for them for a graduation party for two of my nieces. I had worked the recipe out from various sources for our restaurant and deli in Athens GA as part of the 'butter chicken' curry we periodically make. That curry actually uses the marinated and roasted meat in a rich sauce full of tomatoes, ginger, cardamom, butter, and cream. Without giving away the trade secrets for the sauce, I can share the kebabs.

This is one of the 'tandoori' dishes that are so popular with foreigners in India and at non-vegetarian Indian restaurants in the US. The tandoor, after which the foods are named, is an urn-shaped clay oven sunk into the ground, in which a hot charcoal fire is burned at the bottom. Foods to be roasted are skewered on long steel rods and dropped into the oven from the top by the cook, or 'kebabshi', or in the case of breads (such as 'naan') are stuck onto the inner wall of the oven and manipulated with steel hooks and long-handled spatulas. The flavor of any tandoori dish is enriched with the super-hot charcoal fumes.

Tandoori chicken halves or, in the case of the tikka kebabs, chunks of boneless chicken are marinated overnight in a mixture of spices, yogurt, garlic, ginger, and vinegar, and typically are stained bright red with food color. The recipe below makes an authentic-tasting and appearing tandoori chicken tikka. For home use, a charcoal or gas grill is more readily available than a real tandoor. And the kebabs can also be grilled under a hot broiler in the oven, although without the wonderful flame flavor.

While the marinating and, particularly, the skewering are mildly tedious, they are done ahead, and only the grilling is done at dinner time. Chunks of lime are served with the kebabs for squeezing on to the meat, and typically wedges of tomato, onion, and cucumber are also served as accompaniments.

The recipe will serve six generously. My brother-in-law reported that some of the teenaged boys at the graduation party were, quite happily, serving themselves four kebabs at a time.

Chicken Tikka Kababs Tim


In food processor or blender, puree:
4 large cloves garlic
1-1/2-inch piece of fresh ginger, sliced (substitute 1-1/2 teaspoons ground dry ginger)
1/2 cup yogurt
5 tablespoons vinegar
Transfer to bowl and stir in:
1 tablespoon cornstarch (not traditional, but works well)
1 tablespoon salt
1-1/2 tablespoons ground coriander
1 tablespoon paprika
1 tablespoon turmeric
1 tablespoon ground cumin
3/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1/8 teaspoon each liquid red food color and yellow food color (traditional, but can be omitted)
3 tablespoons canola oil

3 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thigh

Trim off tough parts and part of the fat (the remainder will cook off during grilling). Cut meat into long strips 3/4-inch wide (or large bite size). Mix well with the marinade, and marinate overnight.

Boil bamboo skewers in water 10 minutes to soak thoroughly to resist burning. If you used the food color, use plastic gloves to avoid staining your hands with the marinade. When you put chicken on the skewers, if you used long strips you can skewer them lengthwise if thick, or if thin, thread them on in ribbon fashion, folded one or more times. Do not leave exposed skewer in between chicken pieces, or they will burn and the stick will fall apart. The chicken can be skewered in the morning and the kebabs refrigerated, covered with plastic wrap, until ready for grilling.

Grill over a medium heat, preferably over real charcoal, but a gas grill also works. Or the kebabs can be grilled under a broiler in the oven. Turn the kebabs several times until well done.

Serve with wedges of tomato, slices of red onion, and slices of cucumber. Accompany with chunks of lime to squeeze onto the kebabs.


Blogger cammie ives said...

Absolutely fantastic. I was nervous about the amounts of spices specified in the marinade recipe, but the flavor was amazing. I used the grill to make naan as an accompaniment, along with lots of cucumber slices to cool our mouths. Thanks for another great recipe.

6:03 AM  

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